All food businesses, including pubs, are subject to fraudulent behaviour in some way, shape or form, according to three food safety professionals who spoke at the Institute of Food Safety Integrity and Protection’s (TiFSiP’s) Knowledge is Power conference in Westminster this week (3 February).
“Food fraud and food crime are threats to all of us [working with food],” TiFSiP head of operations Jenny Morris said. “In 2013 we all had a wakeup call with the horsement crisis.”
Pubs should not be misled into thinking food crime and fraud is too big to affect them, as the definitions of the words mean pubs can quite easily be hit, she told the Publican's Morning Advertiser (PMA).
A spokeswoman from the Food Crime Unit, which was set up in 2015 following a recommendation in a report into the horsemeat crisis, by Queen’s University of Belfast Professor Chris Elliott, set out the differences between food fraud and food crime.
Food fraud, she said, was a dishonest act or omission relating to the making or supply of food, which is intended for personal gain or to cause loss to another party.
Food crime, the spokeswoman explained, was dishonesty relating to the making or supply of food that is detrimental to consumers, businesses or the public.
Fraud should be on the agenda
In an exclusive podcast interview, Morris told the PMA food fraud should be on the agenda of all food-serving pubs.
“Any businesses that want to look after themselves, but most importantly look after their customers, need to have a good think about what they should do in terms of food fraud.
“It’s very difficult to know where food fraud comes from, but the first thing you should do is look at your suppliers and their reliability.
“If you’ve got a good national chain you should have good reason to rely on them. But if you go for a bargain from the man in the white van at the back door – and if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is – it might be a food fraud issue.”
Eoghan Daly, TiFSiP policy and technical advisor, explained that around 5% of any food company’s revenue every year would be lost as a result of food crime.
Figures from the insurance firm Euler Hermes UK showed that fraud was becoming more of an issue across all sectors and had risen by 88% in 2015.
This could be reduced by putting systems in place to prevent as much fraud as possible. However, food fraud would never be tackled completely, he added.
‘£12m through counterfeit’
As an example, he said: “If you look at the aerospace industry, it lost £12m through counterfeit parts between 2007 and 2012 and that’s a heavily regulated industry.”
The pharmaceutical sector, also heavily regulated against fraud, still lost £140bn a year due to fraudulent activities, he added.
“For most industries, food fraud and crime is going to be a significant problem, especially since margins in food are usually quite thin.”
Not keeping a check on fraud could be crippling for food businesses, Daly warned and set out three areas of risk associated with food fraud.
The first was health, which included stress caused to customers, making customers sick and in the worst cases, killing customers.
Secondly, brand reputation could be damaged as a result of food fraud including brand value, employee trust, commercial relationships, reduced sales and potentially increased insurance costs.
Thirdly, fraud was a real business risk and should be measured and managed down. “You should be trying to improve your fraud resilience all of the time,” he said.